When children’s-book authors tackle the subject of religion, they tend to focus on specific holidays. Christmas books, in particular, are a major subgenre that has produced such bestsellers as 2005’s The Elf on the Shelf. But the best faith-centered works don’t just showcase the trappings of religious observance—they also look at the principles that underlie a faith. Here are three such books that Kirkus Indie reviewed in the past year:

Tyler Brooke’s Peter & the Coal Christmas, illustrated by Mike Soldano, tells the story of a boy in Russia who misbehaves terribly despite the threat of a stocking full of coal on Christmas morning. But it turns out that he’s doing so as part of a plan to help his poverty-stricken family. Kirkus’ reviewer called this book “a truly compelling examination of the ethics of doing the wrong things for the right reasons.”

Bindi and the Bodhi Tree by Ramakrishna Michaels, with illustrations by Mae Porter, tells of a cat who lives at an ashram, does yoga, and, at one point, helps her owner out of a tree. It also refers to the story of the Buddha and the bodhi tree and delves into concepts surrounding meditation and  mindfulness. It’s a “quirky and bright introduction to meditation and Buddhism,” according to Kirkus’ reviewer. 

The Pakistani family in Natasha Rafi’s The Jinni on the Roof, illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa, fasts in observance of Ramadan. But 8-year-old Raza is David Faith 2  hungry, so he fools the housekeeper into thinking that a jinni’s on the roof, commanding her to bring him fried-dough parathas—until Raza’s grandmother finds out about the deception. Kirkus’ reviewer called the book “a sweet introduction to a Muslim observance,” noting that “the boy is allowed to be boyish while still being gently guided toward his greater responsibility as a Muslim.” David Rapp is the senior Indie editor.